LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Liverpool eased the pressure on much-criticized manager Brendan Rodgers following a 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.
Rodgers' side was without a league victory since the second game of the season. Two defeats and two draws since then had led to speculation mounting over his future with Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp linked with his job.
However a brace from returning striker Daniel Sturridge and the quickest goal of the season from stand-in captain James Milner will have alleviated the calls for Rodgers' dismissal, albeit temporarily.
"Of course there is a lot of hysteria around the team and the club and myself. I'm delighted for them (the players). They've been absolutely brilliant under the scrutiny to stay calm and we know we'll progress and get better," said Rodgers after securing his first Premier League win since August.
Milner gave the hosts the perfect start at Anfield when he struck the opener after 66 seconds against his former club. After being picked out by Philippe Coutinho, the former Villa man netted on his left side from the edge of the box.
Two second-half goals from Sturridge showed exactly what Rodgers and Liverpool have been missing. The England international has endured a torrid time with injury but he doubled the Reds' lead shortly before the hour mark. Following a one-two with Milner, the 26-year-old Sturridge lashed the ball beyond Brad Guzan with the outside of his foot.
Unmarked Villa striker Rudy Gestede reduced the deficit from close range in the 66th, seconds before Sturridge restored Liverpool's two-goal advantage after a neat exchange with Coutinho.
"Daniel's (Sturridge) two finishes shows the quality that has been missing from this team for a year and hopefully now we have him back and that can help us to go on and win games," Rodgers said of his striker.
Gestede headed in with aplomb to make it 3-2 but Liverpool held on to provisionally rise to seventh in the table on 11 points, five adrift of new league leaders Manchester United.
Villa slipped into the relegation zone with Tim Sherwood's side in 18th with four points from its opening seven matches.
"I'm pleased with how the players performed. I thought how we coped and handled it today from the first whistle was excellent. We were very creative. The players worked tirelessly and apart from conceding two goals, that was the only downside today," Rodgers said.